Doing the work

When I do tea presentations at different venues, I need to set up the tatami, shoji and tea room as well as set up the mizuya. It takes about an hour to pack every thing up and load the car, an hour to heat water, clean and set up at the venue, an hour to do the presentation, and about an hour to clean up, pack and load the car and about an hour to unload, unpack and re-wash all the dogu at home. That is about 6 hours of work not to mention the time it takes to get to the venue and get into kimono. I also teach at rented space where I have to do the same set up before class, and pack everything up after class. For a tea lesson, it takes just as much time for me to teach one student as it takes 3-4 students.

As I was setting up the other day, I had a student helping me. She said, “I had no idea it was so much work to get ready for class. How can you do all this work just to teach an hour and a half class?” For me, the work and the discipline to do the work is just part of tea. It is like weavers, you need to warp the loom (string the vertical threads on the loom) before you can start weaving the horizontal threads. You cannot weave without vertical threads, so warping the loom is an essential part of weaving.

Sensei says, “Eighty percent of tea is cleaning,”

Cleaning before, cleaning after and cleaning during tea, that is just part of the work. As we are setting up in the mizuya we are cleaning. As we are wiping the tatami, we are cleaning. In the acts of cleaning, we are preparing ourselves to make tea. When we are cleaning up the mizuya, wiping tatami afterwards these are acts of respect and gratitude.

Taking care of your dogu doesn’t just apply to tea utensils, it is how you treat everything in your life. Like the famous baseball player Ichiro:

The man whose first name has come to symbolize greatness in hitting might also be the most meticulous player when it comes to caring for the tools of his trade. He rubs the soles of his feet every day with a rounded wooden stick. He cleans his own spikes and glove after games. And he prefers to carry his own bats, which are cut from Japanese ash wood called aodamo and custom made from specs chosen by Ichiro on a tour of the Mizuno factory in Japan in 1992. “I’ve never seen anybody that I’ve played with take care of their equipment with just carefulness, thoughtfulness. Most guys throw their gloves around. Not him,” he said. “He told me that when he cleans his glove up after the game, that means he’s already thought about the game that day and while he’s wiping it off he is wiping off the game that day.”

Doing the work doesn’t just apply to tea. Doing the work can mean the emotional working things out in relationships. It can mean doing the work of keeping up with friendships. It can mean making the hard decsions, being on time, and doing your best.

In our life, doing the work of adulting, of cleaning up before and afterwards are acts of preparation, respect and gratitude.

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O-Tsukimi, the Moonviewing Festival

Last night was a beautiful evening for moonviewing.  At the Portland Japanese Garden we participated in the O-tsukimi festival with a celebration of Japanese culture.  The weather was cloudy during the day, but as the evening deepened, all the clouds dissapated to reveal the moon.  The celebration will continue tonight and tomorrow night. It is always a privilege to have a garden dedicated to Japanese culture.

Participants were served a meal of sushi and miso soup, and were entertained with koto music.

At the Kashintei, the tea house, tea by candlelight.

And the view of the city from the pavilion is the perfect place to view the moonrise.



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Introduction to Chado Class now forming

Chado, The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Introduction to Chado class
Starts on Thursday, September 13, 2018, 7:00-8:30 pm. 10 weeks
The essence of Japanese culture is contained in Chado, the way of tea. Students in this class will learn the etiquette of how to be a guest at a tea ceremony, the basic order of the tea ceremony and how to whisk green powdered matcha ceremonial tea. Students will also participate in 6 Japanese tea ceremonies from informal to semi-formal tea gatherings.  An overview of Japanese arts and how the tea ceremony has influenced Japanese culture will be presented. Students will learn about tea ceramics, Japanese gardens, calligraphy, kimono dressing, and incense ceremony. They will also be introduced to zazen meditation and discuss how to put tea practice into every day life.

Places are limited. Reserve your spot with at $50 deposit. Use the button at right.
Fee: $250, includes all materials, tea and sweets for 10 weeks
Location: The Jasmine Pearl Darjeeling room, 724 NE 22nd Ave., Portland, OR 97232

For more information contact Marjorie Yap, Instructor
Phone: 503.645.7058
email: margie[at]issoantea[dot]com or use the contact form at the bottom of the About page here

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Tea and music

I had an excellent comment from a reader of the blog regarding the similarities of Chado and music. It was brought more into focus for me this week when I had a fellow teacher from Seattle visit. The teacher’s partner is an accomplished musician and we had a long and interesting discussion comparing chado and music.

It started with the scroll, “ichigo ichie,” (one meeting in a lifetime) that was hanging in the tea room as I made tea for them. He said like chanoyu, every time you play a piece of music, it is different and that no two performances are exactly alike. He also commented that sometimes while playing everything comes together in a natural flow without conscious effort, but to get there takes years of practice and playing with other people.

I was wondering if the analogy held up between tea and music. Much of it does. The constant practice, the training, preparation, timing and working together with others, the striving to follow procedure, and allowance for creative expression within a rigid structure.

Before Sen Rikyu there was tea and before Bach there was music.
~Hisashi Yamada

When I think of art I often think of painting, sculpture, photography or something with a tangible result; something to hold onto or point to and say this is art. I don’t often think of the performing arts like dance, theater or music. I read an interview with some rock singer who said that he’d been performing a few of the same songs for 20 years and at every concert he gave, people always shouted out requests for the same songs. He said that nobody would think of asking Leonardo to paint the Mona Lisa over and over again for 20 years.

The art of tea is unlike the fine arts, somewhat like the performing arts, and yet different from them. There is no tangible result from the art of tea, and tea is not a performance with the artist doing and the audience watching or listening. The art of tea is participatory. All the senses are engaged and stimulated. Host and guests create the experience together, with harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. The host strives to serve the guests and the guests do their utmost to appreciate what the host has done.

Someone said to me that people fall in love with the idea of Rikyu’s tea, but when they begin tea training they are disappointed to have to follow the rules and do boring stuff like clean tatami, folding fukusa, purifying utensils, walking in and out of the tea room. This is where you start. They just want to make beautiful tea. It is like going to a concert to hear Yoyo Ma play cello, but when they want to learn the cello, they are disappointed to have to do boring things like learning bowing techniques, tuning your instrument and playing scales when they just want to play Bach’s sonata. But even Yoyo Ma had to begin somewhere

Musicians don’t play someone else’s part when they play together. You don’t see the trombone playing the oboe part, nor does the cello assist the conductor. In chanoyu it is the same. Guests don’t help the host clean up, nor does the host drink with the guests. Everyone has his own role to play to make the whole more harmonious. Musicians respect each other to play their part and each part is different and distinctive, but together the whole becomes more than the individual parts.

As with music, the chaji runs on time. Because the charcoal only burns so long, heating the water and making tea when the temperature is perfect depends on good timing. In order to get there, guest and host must work together. Sometimes things like conversation have to be timed so as not to interrupt the flow of the temae. When the violins come in, it must not be too late, nor too early so that the music flows.

Even though jazz seems like everyone is doing their own thing, in order to improvise, players need to pay attention, listen, and adjust according to what to other players are doing. In a chaji, guests don’t just sit back to be entertained, they must pay attention, listen and adjust according to what is going on. It takes an experienced guest to anticipate things and make the host look good.

In a music ensemble, there isn’t a hierarchy. First violin doesn’t mean that the part is more important than second violin. All the parts are equally important. Even though there are supporting players, they are essential to make the composition sound right. Supporting players in chaji are no less important than that of host and first guest.

Bands who have been together a long time become very tight and know what other members are thinking, or can compensate if they have an off night. Even though songs in the repertoire have been played night after night of performance, every time it is played is a different experience. Sometimes surprises can happen that make the experience more interesting and lead to new creative endeavors. And even though you have studied temae with your classmates for years, in a chaji, sometimes surprises happen that make the experience interesting and enjoyable as the host and guests adjust to the unexpected.

There may be other ways that tea and music are alike. Are you a musician? Can you add to the discussion? Email me or reply in the comments below.

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Breathing is essential to life. The air that fills our lungs fills our bodies with oxygen so we can function at all levels. Breathing is involuntary, that is, you do not have to think about it. The body automatically does it, just as the heart pumps blood through arteries and veins. But, unlike the heart, breathing can come under conscious control. We can regulate our breath by speeding it up, slowing it down, or even stopping it for a short time.

When we are making tea in temae, the speed of procedure is regulated by our breath. By consciously controlling the speed of breathing, we can speed up the movements, or slow them down. If you breathe in when you lift up a utensil, and breathe out when you put it down, you establish a rhythm in your temae. I can tell if students are holding their breath by the speed of the movements. Some movements are so quick that the student would be panting as if they had run a race if they timed their breath to the movements.

Some students have asked me what is the correct speed of the temae. If you are breathing your temae, then that is the correct speed. Faster than that, guests will have no time to rest. Slower than your breath gives greater portent to each movement and it becomes ponderous.

Folding your fukusa at the beginning of temae will set the pace of the procedure. It is easy to see this in yohosabaki where you examine each of the 4 sides of the fukusa before folding it. A magical thing happens when you do this. Guests also begin to breathe with you as you breathe in and out. The room settles down and the energy focuses on the movements of the host.

Something also happens with the host. In examining the four sides of the fukusa and breathing in and out, the heartbeat begins to slow down, nervousness evaporates, and the mind comes to the present. The simple act of breathing unites the host and guest and focuses the mind of the host and brings everyone to the present. If you are getting lost in temae, take a few deep breaths and find yourself again. You will see where you are and what needs to be done and you can move forward.

Breathing for meditation

There is a reason meditation focuses on counting our breaths. The act of deliberate breathing helps us control our emotions. When angry, fearful, or upset, the tendency is to hold the breath or breathe very shallowly associated with fight or flight response. This produces a build up of stress chemicals such as adrenaline, lactic acid, and cortisol. Researchers have found these chemicals with rapid, shallow breathing can make us feel chronically anxious, fatigued and disoriented. I also think that the brain is not getting enough oxygen and cannot function rationally. If we take the time to take a few deep breaths, the oxygen gets to the brain and body and we can gain control of emotions to relax and focus.

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